Dear Jayme,

Fourth of July weekend is coming and I'll be stuck in the office catching up on paperwork. My wife is furious that I'm not home doing family stuff, but weekends and holidays are the only times I have to do this. How can I make her understand how important this is and get her off my case?

Dear Luke,

Keep doing what you're doing and the problem will solve itself. Eventually your wife and kids will quit nagging you. Then, they'll realize that life would be better with a husband or dad who puts them first in his priorities instead of with Mr. At-the-office-every-waking-minute. Finally, they'll be out of your hair and you'll have plenty of time for paperwork. Remember to add writing the alimony and child support checks to your to-do list.

Too dramatic? Okay. The spouse and kids drift into their own worlds, leaving you to live alone in yours. You're still technically a family but your lives are so distant and disconnected that you're really strangers. Years later your kids will ignore/resent/despise you and you'll be willing to sell your soul for a chance to do it over again.

Not the answers you wanted? Hmmm... Well, there is another solution: Get your priorities in order. You're so turned around that you're not even asking the right question. Let's try again:

  •     Why are you in business in the first place? Most people go into business to provide a better life for their families and themselves. Does that sound about right for you? Yes? If so, then you need to get clear on what "better life" means to you and your family. Check it out. Chain your kids to the dining table and ask them and your wife to write down what would make their lives happier. You do the same. You'll probably be stunned at how different your list is from theirs.
  •     Do what you do best and hire out the rest. Would you have your most seasoned, skilled employee stuffing envelopes or sweeping the floor? No? Then why would you have the owner of the business doing the work of a $20 an hour bookkeeper/clerk/technician? Figure out the stuff that only you, with your unique abilities, can do, and teach somebody else to do the rest, being careful to document your processes as you go.
  •     "But I'm the only one who knows how to do it." Ah yes, oh great business wizard, no one before or after you shall ever fully understand the wondrous intricacies of signing checks/ordering office supplies/striping the parking lot. Enough said.
  •     Work expands to fill the time allocated to it. So allocate less. Ever notice that your inbox is full whether you work forty hours or eighty? Might as well opt for forty.

There's always something to do, clean, organize, or catch up on. All that stuff will be there whether it gets done today or not. Your family is a different story. You only get one chance to be a part of your children's lives and there's nothing you'll be doing at the office on the Fourth of July that's more important than flipping burgers for your daughter's birthday party or teaching your son how to hit a curve ball.

Nobody looks back on their life and says, "If only I'd spent more time at the office." Instead, we often grieve for the family life we sacrificed in order to achieve business success and wish we could go back forty years and take a different path. Well, in forty years you're going to look back and remember the time you wrote a letter to that business coach and she told you to refocus your priorities on what was really important. It's up to you whether you'll look back fondly and say, "Thank goodness she set me straight," or either you kick yourself and say "If only I'd listened to her then."

Happy Fourth!


Construction Business Owner, July 2006